I suppose I am one of the lucky ones. As it happened, I was at the Windsor Jazz festival in 1967, where ‘Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac’ made their debut. I had gone to see Pink Floyd, but they pulled out as Sid Barrett had begun his troubles.
So, I have watched Fleetwood Mac’s development and evolution from a distance and from a little closer at times. Choosing the best Fleetwood Mac songs might be influenced a little by that.
Especially my choice as their best ever track. I have chosen my three favorites in order. They will come later.
All Together Now
Many of us knew ‘Greenie’ from his John Mayall days. We knew what he could do. So, we stayed in Windsor to watch after Floyd pulled out. It was strange in many ways.
Mick Fleetwood had been with John Mayall with Greenie and formed the band with him. Christine Perfect was with Chicken Shack, who were on before Fleetwood Mac.
John McVie was still with John Mayall, who was on a couple of acts before. The original band was all together, but not playing together that day. The next time I saw them, they were all together, minus Christine, who hadn’t yet married John and joined the band. But John was there.
The First Time…
That lineup was then Peter Green, Mick Fleetwood, Jeremy Spencer, and John McVie. Danny Kirwan came later in 1968, I think. A three-guitar line-up. Green, Spencer, and Kirwan. It was different.
However, to be able to pick the best Fleetwood Mac songs, the band had to be around for a while. Luckily, you can say Fleetwood Mac has seen a few years. It’s been a long time. And the band has also seen a few incarnations.
The American Accident
The link between America and American musicians was an accident. It certainly wasn’t planned. The wheels were starting to come off internally with the band. They were on the verge of signing with the Beatles’ Apple Corp. But, they pulled out. Stress was taking its toll.
Peter Green, the most influential member, blues guitarist, singer, and songwriter, just cracked. He had had quite enough of the music business and its LSD-laced furor.
He walked out, gave away what money hadn’t been siphoned off, and went to work as a gravedigger on Canvey Island in Essex. I saw him years later in a guitar shop in Westcliff, Essex. A disheveled figure, I hardly recognized him.
That 1959 Les Paul
I had the privilege of just touching it once before Gary Moore bought it. You didn’t dare try and play it. It was sacred. The ‘Greenie’ Les Paul was before my eyes. You felt like kneeling before it in worship. Except there was no deity there, he was digging holes.
On a tour in America, they lost another member. Jeremy Spencer said he was just going out. He was gone two years before he finally resurfaced. He joined the ‘Children of God’ religious cult.
Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac was over. American Bob Welch joined instead, and the accidental American link was formed.
The rest we know about. The brilliant Lindsey Buckingham, the strange but iconic Stevie Nicks. The band took a different direction. But the music was still incredible. Rumours became one of the biggest selling albums of all time.
But, true to ‘Mac’ form, they tried very hard to destroy themselves and pull it all apart with internal problems. We have been here before. Let’s just look at what, in my opinion, is the best of the best. And where better to start than the beginning.
Stop Messing ‘Round (Live) [Remastered] [Explicit]
Let’s go back to the Windsor Jazz festival. The police had made some arrests because of the noise and insisted the volume was turned down. Over in Windsor Castle, there were complaints from the ‘locals.’ We could hardly hear it, but this track stood out.
Black Magic Woman – The Best of Fleetwood Mac
Written by Peter Green, it was first released in 1969 and has been included in plenty of compilations. Santana, of course, had a big hit with it.
It is a moody song with a typically understated blues solo from the man. It was this song that got them on the radio and announced their arrival to the masses.
Need Your Love So Bad (2018 Remaster)
This was Fleetwood Mac’s third single. Released in 1968, it was interesting for a couple of reasons. It was first recorded by Bluesman Little Willie John in 1955. The song was written by his brother.
It was interesting because firstly it included Christine Perfect on piano, who was not yet a member of the band. Secondly, while being a blues song, they added some orchestral strings.
This gave the song a whole new feel and might be one reason why the song crept into the high 30s in the UK chart.
There is some irony to this song. Peter Green wrote it and was noted for the guitar sound he had from his ‘59 Les Paul. This track, though, was recorded using a Fender Stratocaster.
He has been seen playing it live using the Les Paul. But, it was a Strat on the recording due to its softer, warmer sound. It was Fleetwood Mac’s only UK number one hit record in their original format.
It created a whole new set of fans away from the blues scene. That did not go down so well with some members of the band, despite the money it was earning.
Man of the World (1998 Remaster)
Of all the Fleetwood Mac songs of this period, this 1969 song has to be the best. And I am referring now to Peter Green’s songwriting.
They were a great blues band, probably the best of their era. Anybody who had seen them knew that. And ‘Greenie’ made a certain other member of the Bluesbreakers look decidedly ordinary.
He was moving in a different direction now, and their development in some ways mirrors that of The Beatles. Evolving into new areas, inventive and creative, and capable of creating beautiful music.
We Didn’t Know
What was not apparent was the inner turmoil Green was suffering. And it all poured out in this song. But we just didn’t see it. He only lasted another year, quitting after being spiked with LSD in America. He had just had enough.
Oh Well (Part 1) – (1969)
They still managed another adventurous creative shot at the establishment and the music business before the end arrived. This was 1969, and this was Green doing what he wanted to do. So many different styles packed into both sides of a single, Part One and Part Two.
Part Two on the second side faded out with him on acoustic guitar in dramatic fashion playing stunning work. Did he know this was almost his swansong, with just one more recording to follow?
It had a neo-flamenco feel to it in parts but also an almost ‘metal’ like start. And it must be said, great drumming from Mick Fleetwood.
There is one momentous track missing from this period. In my view, the greatest track that any incarnation of Fleetwood Mac recorded. Any ideas? It’s coming.
By the end of 1974, it was clear that the band’s days were numbered unless something was done. There had been albums, but they were in free-fall. Danny Kirwan, the last of the original blues band other than Mick and John, was fired in 1972. His alcoholism was just too much.
It hadn’t worked so well with Bob Welch. Good guitarist, but he was not Peter Green. Mick approached Lyndsey Buckingham at the end of 1974 and offered him the job. He said he would join if Stevie Nicks came as well as they were a team. She joined without an audition.
Here We Go Again
Fleetwood Mac was about to embark on a new phase. A phase that some consider the best Fleetwood Mac era. It was certainly a period where the music was exceptional. The stage performances were dynamic. And, of course, the internal problems were still epic.
Let’s take some songs from that period for our best Fleetwood Mac songs list. I am now going to the 1975 Fleetwood Mac album, the first with Buckingham and Nicks. I am taking six songs, even though I could have taken most of them.
A great little song. Something rock n roll about it, but with a little bit more. It was the only song on this ‘first’ album not written by the band. It was written by friends of Buckingham and Nicks, Richard and Michael Curtis.
So many simple but good things and some great vocals included. Nicks and the now Christine McVie working together. The shape of things to come, perhaps.
This track is a rehash of a 1968 Peter Green song from the original ‘Fleetwood Mac’ album initially called “The World Keeps on Turning.”
Christine McVie and Lindsey Buckingham collaborated on this, much to the dissatisfaction of Miss Nicks, who was not happy. Perhaps the first signs that there might be problems in the future.
Great guitar work from Buckingham playing a Fender Telecaster. The song was a permanent fixture in most concerts.
I’m So Afraid
This is a song written by Lindsey Buckingham that I have included because of the mood it creates. It is dark and somber, and, dare I say it, almost Gothic in its feel.
Like many of the early Buckingham and Nicks contributions on the albums, they had been written before they joined Fleetwood Mac. That made the process a lot quicker and easier. It had originally been written for Stevie Nicks for their second album, but it never happened. It was included here.
Once again, a chance for Buckingham to show that he was a good addition to the band. Not only as a writer and singer but also with his guitar work.
The dark themes of Steve Nicks continue with this iconic track. “Rhiannon” was a mythical Welsh queen who shuns a god to marry a mortal man. She is framed for the murder of her child by the god and made to confess to something she hasn’t done.
This song’s about someone who thinks she is possessed by the spirit of Rhiannon. Plenty of the mythological and the occult are included, and in concerts, they managed to create this otherworldly feel to the song.
It was originally written by Stevie Nicks for the second album with Buckingham that didn’t happen. Again, like with “I’m So Afraid,” it was included here.
Say You Love Me (1975)
This song showcases the abilities of Christine McVie with a song written for her husband and bassist, John. A simple song with a catchy chorus and some nice guitar work.
It was always one of the most popular Fleetwood Mac songs. And, after Christine had left the band, it was still included in stage shows with Nicks and Buckingham sharing vocals.
The last song showcased Christine; this one does the same for Stevie Nicks. It was written way before Fleetwood Mac while she was working as a waitress in Los Angeles to pay the bills.
The inspiration came from a visit she made to Aspen, Colorado, when she stared out of the window, contemplating what a landslide might be like. And how her life seemed to be crashing down around her.
A poignant vocal performance and some nice acoustic guitar from Buckingham. It is always a favorite at concerts and certainly worthy of inclusion here.
And so we move on to what some think is the best Fleetwood Mac album, Rumours. An album accurately titled, if ever there was one.
Released in 1977, it was a miracle it ever got finished in the first place. Half of the tracks had to be recorded while other members were not there because of in-fighting and personality clashes. Perhaps that was the inspiration behind such a staggering performance.
“Dreams” was one of the headline tracks and was a number one when released as a single. The drama and the emotion seem to pour out of her voice at times, even though she doesn’t seem to be trying to generate it.
“You want your freedom,” she sings…
In her mind, the breakup of the marriage between John and Christine, Mick Fleetwood’s divorce, and the end of her relationship with Lindsey Buckingham. A veritable powder keg of emotion.
No wonder they all avoided each other. But a great track and a piece of work that will ever be associated with them. And without a doubt, one of the best Fleetwood Mac songs.
Don’t Stop (1977)
Against the grain with much of the atmosphere of Rumours, this is positive and almost inspirational in its tone. Written by Christine McVie, it puts across the message very clearly, don’t give up.
Typical Fleetwood Mac from the early pre-American days with its thundering, chugging rhythms from Mick and John. Almost a throwback to the blues days. Also, as a single, it reached number 3 in the US.
The Chain (1977)
Is this the most famous bass line of all time? Probably. All five members contributed to this masterclass of letting a song go where it wants. Great bass, enormous Fleetwood drums, stunning vocals, and some neat guitar. What else do you need?
At one point, it was thought it might not be included. Can you imagine what we would have missed if they had excluded it?
It was only the drums and the guitar that were recorded at the same time. The rest was put down by the individuals at different times. How did they make that work? Heaven only knows. Certainly my second favorite track on the album and sometimes the opening for their concerts.
A beautiful song by Christine McVie that was often used to close their live shows. She wrote it in just half an hour on her own after a recording session had finished.
They didn’t use a studio to record the song. Instead, they hired a concert hall, placed 15 mics around the place, and a big bouquet on the piano. Lindsey Buckingham gently strummed an acoustic guitar off stage.
One of the highlights of a great album and another example of why she was such an important part of the band.
Gold Dust Woman (1977)
Back to the atmospheric Miss Nicks for this song that includes references to being addicted to sex as well as drugs. This may be her version of the old adage about the music business “sex, drugs, and rock n roll.” Certainly, they are there in the message, including the intensity of being in Fleetwood Mac.
She once said in her theatrics on stage that she was being some of the drug addicts that she had known. Or perhaps she was just “being herself.”
Christine McVie said it is all about that, the band was “right on the edge for years.” Maybe an unpleasant subject, but this is Nicks and Fleetwood Mac at their moody, self-indulgent best.
Go Your Own Way (1976)
One more from Rumours. If “The Chain” was my second favorite track on the album, then this is, for me, the best of them all. And that is saying something even just considering what I have included here.
Written by Lindsey Buckingham, it is once again about a breakup. This time, he and Stevie Nicks. It thunders along at a good rock pace. Mick Fleetwood doing what he does best, and is probably the best at, laying down a solid, no-frills rhythm. John McVie joins him to drive a pulsating bottom end.
In the live shows…
The end was extended to accommodate a range of extra ideas. Lindsey Buckingham’s vocals and solos are superb. And the backing vocals are excellent, as you would expect. Fleetwood Mac, for the time, at their best.
It is still one of the most requested Fleetwood Mac songs at live shows; it was the first single released from the Rumours album.
From Here On In
I may lay myself open to criticism here, but from here on in, things seemed to deteriorate musically. Maybe the spark had gone. Maybe there were just too many personalities and egos pulling in different directions. Whatever it was, something was missing.
Tusk came out, and while it contained two of three of my favorite Fleetwood Mac tracks, much of it felt like padding. The albums kept coming, and by Tango In The Night, they had started to enter the synthesizer age.
Songs like “Little Lies” were sweet enough but not the real ‘Mac.’ It was a far cry from the Windsor Jazz festival and ‘Greenie.’ So let’s go to my top three Fleetwood Mac songs.
Sisters of the Moon (2015 Remaster)
Written and sung by Stevie Nicks, this is what this incarnation of Fleetwood Mac does best. Mysterious, sultry, moody, and in some ways, absolutely nonsensical. It was written in the main, courtesy of a jam session one night.
The interesting thing musically is how everyone just holds back. Some might say it is screaming out for something to happen. It doesn’t need to. Just Lindsey’s guitar that sounds like a dog wailing in the night.
It wasn’t released as a single in the UK for some reason. In the US, it only reached number 86. The live version can go on for over eight minutes.
Storms (2015 Remaster)
There is some deep real emotion in this song, and there are various opinions about who she is referring. It doesn’t feel like Lindsey Buckingham at all. It could be about the brief relationship she had with Mick Fleetwood.
Whatever inspired the writing, it is a stunning track and, for me, the best the reincarnated Fleetwood Mac produced. At once painful but also beautiful to listen to, Stevie Nicks proved, if it needed proving, what a great writer and singer she is.
“So I try to say goodbye my friend, I’d like to leave you with something more
But I’ve never ever been a blue calm sea,
I have always, been a storm”.
Some farewell. And so to my favorite Fleetwood Mac track. Most may not agree, I suspect, but this is special, as back we go to May 1970.
The Green Manallshi
By this time, Green’s use of LSD had produced two effects. One was that he saw the world as it really was, full of greed and controlling people. And secondly, he was experiencing vivid and very frightening nightmares. This song came from both states of mind.
It was the last song he wrote and recorded for the band. His band. I don’t think you can listen to this, place it in its musical time frame, and not realize it was pure genius. He was never really understood as a man. And, he never saw in himself what we could all see, a blues genius.
A Final Goodbye
Tormented by his demons, he just drifted away. And this song represents all of the torment, emotion, and frustration he felt. And, when his bandmates refused to give a little of what they earned away to good causes, it was the final straw.
He gave most of his money to ‘War on Want’ and left for Canvey Island. He rid himself of his ‘Green Manalishi’ money demons.
Over My Head (1975)
You Make Loving Fun (1977)
Think About Me (1980)
Little Lies (1987)
Big Love (1987)
Seven Wonders (1987)
Isn’t It Midnight (1987)
The Chain (Live) (1980)
That’s Alright (1975)
I Don’t Want to Know (1977)
What Makes You Think You’re the One (1980)
Hold Me (1982)
Love in Store (1982)
Oh Diane (1982)
Save Me (1990)
In the Back of My Mind (1990)
When I See You Again (1987)
Warm Ways (1975)
Beautiful Child (1979)
Sugar Daddy (1975)
Monday Morning (1975)
Never Make Me Cry (1975)
I Believe My Time Ain’t Long (1968)
Black Magic Woman (1968)
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Best Fleetwood Mac Songs – Final Thoughts
So there we are. My list of the greatest Fleetwood Mac songs with a few backstories thrown into the bargain. A great band then and later. Not many have a back catalog as good as this, but Fleetwood Mac does. And we have the recordings to prove it.
Until next time, happy listening.